Facts and FAQ

Cornea donation is necessary for the preservation and restoration of sight. The cornea, the clear dome-like window covering the front of the eye, allows light to pass through the retina and enables us to see. When consent is given for cornea donation, the corneas must be surgically removed from a deceased donor within 12 hours of their death. Very few conditions exclude people from donating their corneas. Healthy corneas can then be transplanted into a person suffering from corneal blindness. Corneal transplants have gone from the status of miracle procedure to that of being considered almost commonplace. Since 1961, nearly one million transplants have taken place. Transplants give hope to thousands of people every year by providing them with active and renewed lives.

Despite continued efforts to increase donor awareness, misconceptions and inaccuracies about donation still exist. Learn the facts so that you can better understand eye/cornea donation and make an educated decision.

FACT: Anyone can be a potential donor regardless of age, race, or medical history.

FACT: All major religions in the United States support organ, eye and tissue donation and see it as the final act of love and generosity toward others.

FACT: If you are sick or injured and admitted to the hospital, the number one priority is to save your life. Eye and cornea donation can only be considered after you are deceased.

FACT: There is currently no waiting list for corneal transplants. That could change if the number of donors continues to decrease.

FACT: An open casket funeral is possible for organ, eye and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process the body is treated with care, respect and dignity.

FACT: There is no cost to the donor or their family for eye/cornea donation.

FACT: Signing a donor card and a driver’s license with a “donor” designation may not satisfy your state’s requirements to become a donor. Be certain to take the necessary steps to be a donor and ensure that your family understands your wishes.

What is the cornea?
The cornea is the clear surface at the front of the eye and is the eye’s main focusing mechanism.

What is corneal blindness?
Corneal blindness is a visual impairment that clouds or scars the cornea restricting its ability to function properly.

Who needs corneal transplants?
A transplant may be needed because of corneal failure due to hereditary disease such as Fuch’s Dystrophy or Keratoconus. Transplants are also performed because of scarring after injury or infection, or after surgical procedures, such as cataract surgery or if a first corneal transplant is rejected.

How safe are corneal transplants?
Over 90% of all corneal transplants performed in the United States are successful. Donated corneas are transplanted only after the donor’s medical and social history have been obtained. Blood samples are taken from the donor to test for HIV and Hepatitis, and the tissue itself is evaluated for suitability under special microscopes.

Who can become an eye donor?
Anyone can become a donor regardless of factors such as poor vision or age. If the corneal tissue is not transplantable due to medical or other condition, the donation can, with consent, be considered a gift for research and education.

How does one become an eye donor?
Prospective donors should indicate their intent by signing a donor card. Of utmost importance is discussing your decision with family members, as your next-of-kin will make the final decision at the time of your death by signing a donation consent form.

What is an Eye Bank?
An Eye Bank obtains, medically evaluates and distributes eyes donated by humanitarian-minded citizens, for use in corneal transplantation, research and education. To ensure patient safety, the donated tissue and the donor’s medical history are evaluated at the Eye Bank in accordance with Eye Bank Association of America’s (EBAA) strict medical standards and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations.

Will the donor family pay or receive any fees?
No. It is illegal to buy or sell human organs, eyes, and tissue. Any costs associated with organ, eye, or tissue procurement are absorbed by the procurement agencies. Families are only liable for funeral arrangements and medical expenses incurred prior to death.

Will being a donor delay funeral arrangements?
Eye procurement is performed within hours after death, so in almost all cases families may proceed as planned with funeral arrangements.

Will eye donation affect the appearance of the donor?
Great care is taken to preserve the appearance of the donor. In most cases, no one will be able to see that anything has been done. Families may proceed with funeral arrangements, including a viewing if so desired.

Will the quality of medical treatment be affected if one is known to be a donor?
No. Strict laws are in existence to protect the potential donor. Legal guidelines must be followed before death can be certified. The physician certifying a patient’s death is not involved with the procurement or the transplant. Organ, eye, and tissue donation is not discussed until after death.

Are there religious conflicts to organ, eye, or tissue donation?
No. As it is a humanitarian gift to others in need, donation is consistent with the attitudes and beliefs of major religions.